Sep 17, 2017 ‘Be regular and faithful’: Unity Health cardiologist trains for milestone marathon
by Hannah K. Robison
Unity Health cardiologist Leon Blue uses the phrase “Be regular and faithful” to encourage patients to stick with a regimen. It’s also a mantra he uses when he disciplines himself during training, a phrase to characterize his friends and family, and the theme he uses to direct his life.
Blue, M.D., is an Arkansas native and has called Searcy home since his junior year of high school. At Harding Academy, he met his best friend, “chief supporter” and wife, Margaret Formby, a daughter of one of Unity Health’s founding fathers, Dr. Tom Formby. This year, the two are celebrating 46 years of marriage and their family has been centered on their love for God, one another, their two children, six grandchildren, countless dogs and aerobic activities.
Although he ran through a number of athletic endeavors in his high school career, Blue said his true devotion for distance running began during his late twenties, while fulfilling his cardiology fellowship. In January, Blue plans to complete his 25th Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Fla.
A member of the “Perfect 25,” a select group of less than 100 people to run every Walt Disney World Marathon since its inception in 1994, Blue holds a special place in his heart for the race and he looks forward to reaching this milestone at “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
Throughout his years of training for races, one marathon in particular stands out among his favorites. Blue’s daughter, Mary-Margaret, decided during college to train and complete the Walt Disney World Marathon with her dad. He reminded her to “show up and do it,” to meet the marathon training requirements, but gave her the freedom to enjoy the experience while juggling her academics and extracurricular activities.
Blue reminisces there was a certain “guy” who started showing up for their father/daughter training runs. Through their months of running, Blue realized this man was dedicated to the race and chose to let him tag along with the family for the marathon. The 26.2 miles truly bonded the group and that “guy” became Mary-Margaret’s husband, Todd Watson.
“My dad is a humble person that leads by example,” Mary-Margaret said. “He has helped countless people learn to run. Not just learning to run the physical race, but to run the best spiritual race you can. When you run with someone, there is a special bond that occurs. There is something about pounding the pavement next to someone, sharing a struggle or a great moment that shapes both of you for the better.
“My dad and I have run many races together. He always shows up, sticks right with me, tells me that I can do it and reminds me that any day you are fortunate enough to run is a good day. For Father›s Day this year, my brother and I surprised my dad by telling him that we both had signed up to run the 25th Disney Marathon with him. We want to let him know that we are showing up to run alongside him because he always shows up to run alongside us.”
A friend as close as a brother also ran alongside Blue in one of his most memorable marathons to date. Ministry Outreach Director at Pepperdine University, Mike Cope, formerly lived in Searcy and was both a “regular and faithful” friend and running partner to Blue. They have run several marathons and other races together through the years.
The two hoped to use the St. Jude’s Memphis Marathon to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It had been a tough year for Cope. After a prolonged illness, his daughter had died. The conditions on the morning of the race were miserable; being both very warm and humid. Cope cramped up on the run. While finishing, he was unable to make his qualifying time.
A couple of months later, at Disney, runners were encouraged to toss their bibs into a barrel after the race for a drawing of 10 numbers that would be randomly selected to qualify for the 100th Boston Marathon. Having already qualified for the race, “low and behold,” Blue said, his number was selected. He contacted the race directors at Disney and told them the story of Cope’s recent life events. Blue lobbied to get his number transferred to Cope. Demonstrating the true Walt Disney World spirit, they agreed. The two were reunited in their running and were among the nearly 40,000 registered runners to complete the historical event.
Blue knows firsthand the hustle and hard work that a marathon demands. Though Mary-Margaret and Mike were both committed teammates while training in previous years, time and distance have left Blue as a lone runner. Still, he enjoys the serenity and beauty that accompany his morning runs, every Monday through Friday. When he is on call, Blue parks his truck near Harding University’s First Security Stadium and trains on the track, never more than mere minutes away from the hospital. He varies his routine and running routes, but he is sure to log his miles outside, through rain, snow or sunshine.
In preparation for race day at Walt Disney World, Blue runs daily at the same time the race is scheduled to begin, 5 a.m. In January, he will wake at 3 a.m., gather in his corral at 4:30 a.m. and begin the race at 5 a.m. Margaret will wait for him on the other side of Cinderella’s Castle in her special spot at the Magic Kingdom, where she has supported him there every time.
“Disney is a special place for our family,” Blue said. He, Margaret, Mary-Margaret and her husband, Todd, along with their children, Anna, Toby and Evan, as well as Blue’s son, Matthew (a triathlete himself), his wife, Amanda, and their girls, Averie, Meredith and Everett, have all shared in the magic Disney World holds and the blessing of all being together in the place,
“Where Dreams Come True.” They conclude each marathon race with a meal at The California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Blue’s motivation for every marathon is the “goal to finish,” he said. Through the years, he has completed 34 marathons in total with his personal record at 3 hours and 47 minutes. “When you finish a marathon, the feeling of accomplishment is very significant and gratifying. Even though I’ve done 34, it is still an achievement, knowing you’ve put in the miles of training and you have completed your goal. But even as I run by myself in the mornings, the feeling that I am doing something physical, it’s a beautiful day and I feel good doing it, is extremely satisfying.”